Cancel Culture: An Obstacle To Growth

If you’re an active part of social media platforms like Twitter, or you like keeping yourself alert on news regarding mainstream media, you’d know a little something about what’s called the Cancel Culture. But if you don’t, then read ahead and you’ll find out.

Cancel culture refers to the concept of cancelling people, mainly celebrities and influencers, for either having problematic views or committing an act deemed wrong and against the law or humanity as a whole. While cancelling has been used for centuries to call-out problematic and unjust actions, the ‘culture’ started spreading through social media when the #metoo movement came to light and a lot of well-known celebrities started getting backlash and held accountable for their behaviours of misconduct. But ever since its spread, the culture of cancellation has also spiked out of control.

It’s no longer just about problematic behaviour, rather it has started to include behaviour that a group of people don’t agree with, or acts that were committed years before the person may have grown and changed for the better. In this blog, I will talk about how this entire culture of calling people out on social media serves as an obstacle to the growth and development of a person and what should be done instead.

Everyone is Cancelled?

As discussed, the movement started out as a way to call-out problematic behaviour on social media platforms, mainly Twitter, after the said behaviours were not given due consideration to receive punishment according to the law. But now every individual who doesn’t conform to modern views of the society is judged to be another one on the list of getting cancelled entirely. And everyone who doesn’t agree with this viewpoint and continues supporting the individual gets cancelled too.

The society has always been known to pass judgment without hearing explanations. The culture we, as Pakistanis, are a part of has more often than not tried to behave as the judge, jury, and executioner when it came to dealing with individuals who failed to conform to its norms. And this is what cancel culture has started to look like on mainstream media. People listen to one side of the story, start a discussion about it, soon the discussion turns into heated arguments and a debate on who is in support and who is against the individual in question, this ‘us vs them’ narrative then results in just more needless debate and an overall cancellation of the person and everyone who stands to reason for them.

The concept has not always been a negative one. When social media gathered to call-out the problematic lifestyle of Harvey Weinstein, it worked. And it ended up uncovering the deeper, darker aspects of Hollywood no one was questioning actively till then. But ever since, its spread has been more about individuals being cancelled for the most unreasonable opinions rather than giving them a chance to look into the matter and change their opinions for good. The underlying idea behind cancel culture isn’t that ‘we found some problems with your behaviour but you may be able to correct it if you gain more awareness on the matter’ it’s rather ‘we don’t support how you have behaved, and now we will never support you and we will make sure no one else does either’.

Easy to Target, Hard to Cancel

The easiest target for cancel culture is celebrities. They have a huge following, people are willing to hear about them, and if they do something wrong, people are more than willing to pass judgment on their actions and condemn them. But, they’re only easy to target. Not easy to cancel. Multiple celebrities have been called out for their problematic views, yet their huge fanbase and influence has allowed them to thrive without repercussions even after their so-called ‘cancellations’. The likes of Stephen Colbert, J.K. Rowling, or locally, Mooroo etc remain prominent figures even after controversies regarding them surfaced on the internet and hashtags trolling them and promoting the idea to cancel them became famous. Which begs the question ‘who is actually suffering from this whole concept’? Well, the idea of ‘free speech’. And the lesser-known individuals who are just rising to the heights of publicity.

Recently, I was strolling through Twitter trends and saw something related to Noah Schnapp being cancelled. A fan of Stranger Things and of the star in question whose acting skills put everyone else in the background, I had to check what it was all about. And once I opened the tweets regarding said trend, it was about discovering a video of the kid from last year where he’s rapping to a song with his friends and he says the N-word, as in the lyrics of the song. This started the debate of calling him a racist and using offensive terms. The actor later apologized and said he’d replaced the N-word and was saying something else that everyone may have misheard. Whether this is true or not, it certainly put the actor’s image in the spotlight for a while. But the problem isn’t with his image, the problem is with the fact that even after his apology came, a lot of people kept shrugging it off. The fact that he was saying the N-word is how the problem began, but when he clarified he didn’t, that ALSO became a problem, with people stating that he is dismissive of the N-word’s existence. Which brings the question ‘does cancel culture not accept growth? Or does it believe bad people remain bad no matter what?

An Attack on Mental Health… A Step Farther From Growth

The age of technology is reaching bigger milestones every other day, and educational and corporate institutions are getting in on the trend. Almost every other powerful institute is making social media a part of their background checks when looking into an individual’s practices before accepting them in their organization. And several incidents have come to light where individuals were denied a position in the organization because of a previous problematic tweet or post. Is it fair? Maybe in some situations, definitely not in all of them. But more than anything, it’s something that goes against mental health and the overall idea of growth.

The cancellation mob doesn’t listen to reason, nor does it listen to logic. It just hears a story and it takes strict action. The main idea behind cancel culture seems to be that all individuals are inherently bad, except of course the ones doing the cancelling! And on that note, all the individuals whose behaviours, or past behaviours turned out to be problematic, means that they’re incapable of changing in the future as well. But how is that fair?

It’s good to hold people accountable for being problematic, it’s good to give them a chance to change and grow to become better. But that’s not even the long-term goal of cancel culture, let alone an immediate one. The main objective is to exile the individual, the long-term goal? Everyone dismisses the individual’s existence and never mentions them again. That’s not growth, that’s toxic. And it’s this toxicity that makes social media, especially Twitter so unbearable more often than not.

Speaking of Twitter, I will always come back to the Pakistani side of it. I just passed my 4th anniversary on the platform; the place is known to many as a stage for everyone to get an equal opportunity to speak, only gets darker and more toxic with every passing year. Everywhere else, the light may be a few shades off. Here, the light doesn’t shine even one bit. From religious arguments to political views, cancel culture isn’t just about exile, it’s about promoting downright murder. Mental health? Growth? There isn’t such a concept as being human and thinking things logically for a few moments, empathy doesn’t even become part of the picture.

Cancel ‘Cancel Culture’, Promote an Accountable One

The problem has never been with calling-out problematic behaviour. We live in a world of technology where we’re supposed to connect with each other on a global level. And a huge benefit of having access to this connection is that we have the ability to raise a voice against injustice and we will be heard by everyone all over. But as I spoke in my blog about Twitter, the problem lies in how we tackle all these problems. Bringing the negative actions of someone with a global influence to light means that we should proceed with holding them accountable and demand active positive change from them.

Starting heated debates and trending a hashtag to dismiss people isn’t going to do much for anyone. But demanding change and promoting the idea of shaping behaviour is what we need to do as people trying to change the world for the better. Exile doesn’t change the world for the better. Bad people won’t stop being bad only because we become ignorant of their existence, they might stop it if they’re dealt with in proper ways. Growth should be the ultimate goal, not dismissal.

Personally, if I recall my own past behaviours and opinions, and compare them to the person I am now, there are things where I know if I met my past self I’d not even want to talk to me for the views I had. And I also know that every view and opinion and behaviour I have now regarding certain topics and situations will not remain this way 4 or even 1 year(s) from now. None of us was born with knowledge over the world’s dealings. And every one of us learned our behaviours and opinions by socializing with different people. And this socializing process is what makes us change our actions and perceptions and shapes our behaviour for better or worse. Instead of wearing glasses that blind us to the entirety of an individual and only makes us focus on their one negative action, we need to be more mindful of the environment and situations that make them behave the way they do.

Yes, things like sexual abuse, domestic abuse, sociopathic behaviours or practices that have caused harm and trauma to victims, need to be questioned and cancelled. But there are also those capable of changing. And giving them a chance to make that change isn’t giving them a free pass. It’s giving them the opportunity to do the good they owe to those they caused harm to, as long as the change in their behaviour is consistent.

In the end, we can say that it’s not the channels that give us a stage to speak out that is wrong. Rather the way we choose to speak out. No one has the right to choose for someone else whether they should or shouldn’t be supporting something or another unless of course, it’s a cause of serious harm to one or more individuals. We’re given platforms to be a voice, and we need to be responsible ones. Being careless about how we behave and voice ourselves can become a cause for more harm than good. And in the end, if our ability to call-out individuals is causing harm, then how are we any better than those whom we’re judging? These were my two-cents on the cancel culture and how it undermines growth instead of promoting it. If you have anything to say about it, feel free to comment.

Maha Abdul Rehman

A content writer and a psychology major, I procrastinate for 6 months or write consecutively. And I occasionally watch (see: obsess about) Football.

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